Sep 20, 2015

[Music] 9 Symphonies Challenge

There is a musical challenge going on Reddit right now: For symphonies #1 through 9, choose a symphony for each number.  Only one symphony per composer is allowed.  It seemed fun so I thought I'd do my own list!

Symphony No 1: Shostakovitch Symphony No. 1

Shostakovich's first symphony is one of the best first symphonies ever written.  While not truly representative of Shostakovich's style as it was his graduation piece from Maximilian Steinberg's composition class.  There is some obvious Stravinsky influence in the work as well due to his (at the time) recent exposure to the composer.

Runners up: Mahler 1, Boulez Symphony Fantastique

Symphony No 2: Rachmaninoff

Rach 2 is just an amazing symphony.  Reminiscent of his 2nd piano concerto, it is a beautiful work with a lovely clarinet solo in the 3rd movement.  Not too much to add, I'm sure there's a nice backstory but I'm not gonna look for it right now.

Symphony No. 3: William Schuman

Why this instead of Brahms 3, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written?  It's because I really like this piece and it doesn't get enough exposure!! It's a really unique and has a pretty epic bass clarinet solo.  The only real recording of it is with Bernstein, though I believe Seattle has a pretty good recording of it as well.

Runner-ups: Brahms 3, Saint-Saens 'Organ' Symphony

Symphony No. 4: Tchaikovsky

Tchaik 4 over Brahms 4 is an easy choice.  This piece is pretty awesome and exemplified the anti-nationalist themes Russian composers hid in their music.

Runners up: Brahms 4

Symphony No. 5: Prokofiev

The fifth symphony has the toughest contention.  However, I chose what I liked most rather than what has the most impact or most historical value.  Therefore, I picked Prokofiev simply because I love this symphony.  It's so comical but also so sad.  Each movement represents a certain facet of Russian life, but also Prokofiev's own reflection of Russain society.  It is both endearing and sarcastic at the same time.

Runners up: Mahler 5, Nielsen 5, Shostakovitch 5, Beethoven 5

Symphony No 6: Beethoven

I think 6 is better than 5! And on that subject we have Beethoven's 6th symphony!  Also known as "pastoral" symphony it is a great demonstration of setting scene and ideas in music.

Runners up: Tchaik 6 (Pathetique)

Symphony No 7: Dvorak (aka 2nd symphony)

The 7th symphony is my favorite of Dvorak. The slow movement sounds like Puff the Magic Dragon...

Symphony No 8: Schubert (Unfinishied)

Just a great piece of music... sorry just want to get this done.

Symphony No 9: Mahler

Sorry kinda a low-quality post... but they're great pieces trust me!

Jun 22, 2015

10 Reasons Why Classical Music is Failing Today

I would like to apologize about the click-bait title posts, but they appeal to people for some reason so I may as well use them.  Lately lots of bloggers, writers, critics, etc. have been frequently saying how classical music is doomed to obscurity, being too quiet, too dated, and too boring.  That being said, I believe many critics are missing the change of pop consumer culture, as well as misunderstanding what is happening to classical music in general.  Without further introduction let's take a look into the current situation that classical music is in.

10.  No cohesion between various musical groups

One of the problems classical music organizations have is the lack of cohesion and  awareness of the different musical groups in their area.  While many musicians (especially at local levels) will play in several groups, orchestra or otherwise, it seems like many musical groups tend to not know what other groups are performing in their area, or simply won't see other groups perform in their area.

Orchestras should not only self-promote but help bring attention to other groups in their area and vice versa: smaller ensembles should promote each other and help advertise larger and more prominent groups as well.  If the community becomes more united the self promotion will give listeners more options and more knowledge of what's happening in their own backyard.

9.  The hiring processes hires 'safe' musicians who don't contribute to the local community, and values ability over artistry and leadership.

I have to admit this is partially a personal complaint as well as an important one.  When an orchestra hires a musician, they look for several things: how a musician fits into the sound of an orchestra, how skilled and consistent is the player, how musical is the player, and so on.  However, I believe orchestras need to look at another important quality when hiring a musician, one that cannot be determined from a blind audition: how will that player contribute and promote the orchestra or classical music in the local community?

It is so easy as a musician to focus only on the music community that we developed in.  Focusing on conservatories or the wealthy elite has allowed classical music to survive, but to flourish, musicians really need to get out into the public and work on inviting and informing people of events and music in their area.  The reason why this is so hard to do is because it is met with heavy resistance.  People don't like it when they are asked to listen carefully and analyze their music the way we as classical musicians break down our art form.

There is some positive light in the matter though as many smaller groups are rooted in their community.  New World Symphony has an international and local presence for building up their community.  Other ensembles like Fifth House in Chicago and the Civic Orchestra also play in local and unexpected places to promote their concerts but also to establish a relationship in their community.  These groups are few and far between, however, and most music groups seem to think that their existence deserves people to come listen to their concerts.  This attention must be earned from a massive market of superstars and pop artists.

I want to commend Cleveland Orchestra for being the best orchestra at establishing a relationship with their local city.  They promote their sports teams and are willing to joke about themselves in a way that allows them to feel approachable rather than an ineffable paragon of musical idealism.

8.  Classical music is disconnected from how people relate to music today.

A major problem with classical music today is its disconnect from what people listen for in music.  For example, I remember going to see a Broadway show recently.  After the show, a large group of people crowded the exit of the stage to be able to see/interact with the stage performers.   From this I realized the average person has no real empathy and attachment to the actual music, but the person themselves.  People listen to an artists music not because the music is unique or insightful (if pop music shows us anything it's that neither of these have to be true for a piece of music to be successful) but because they relate in some way to the person themselves.  You can tell this by how the fans react to news.  Pop artists get a free pass from crimes due to their popularity; the person is more important in the music.  If something like this happens to a classical musician, the musician or director is held accountable and removed from the orchestra, or at least appropriately punished.

This habit of classical music organizations reveals another problem with classical music: the community looks inward and becomes introverted.  The reason why orchestras and opera houses end up playing the same 50 or so works of music is because these organizations are catering to the same people who have been attending orchestras the past 25 or 30 years.  This is a huge problem; there are lots of great piece of art music being composed with the same level of artistry and creativity that was being produced over a century ago and yet very very few of those works are being given exposure at the large stage.  Luckily, these works are being performed at a less exposed level as many younger musicians are tired of the stagnant development of national and international orchestras.  I mean the current biggest 'craze' is Barbara Hannigan's performance of Gyorgy Ligeti's Mysteries of the Macabre, a piece written over a century ago. There is so much new music being composed, some of it cinematic in nature, but much of it personal and powerful.

I mean listen at the work of Wuorinen.  It is intellectually stimulating, but essentially grating to listeners.  Even as contemporary musicians who understand modern compositions, there comes a point where you can not defend atonal compositions.  It is one thing to use serialism for expressive purposes  and used well to make a statement, but sometimes the math and intellectual idea is what is more powerful than the actual musical product.  Many ensembles and orchestras who play contemporary works end up being forced to defend bad pieces.  This, in part, enforces the repetition of dated and overplayed works of older composers.

It is important for orchestras to find a balance between the good ol' top 50 and modern works.  Orchestras could become a hub for new compositions and for composers to come up with new exciting music for people to enjoy and stretch their imaginations.  If orchestras keep living in the past they will end up being in the past.

7. Failure to adapt and embrace changing and new technology

Orchestral music has not changed its performance style since about the 1830s with Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique and the rise of musical academies.  Modern, technology, however, has been constantly changing how we view and consume video, interact with other people, and listen to music.  While orchestral music has embraced technology to perform new music works, classical music hasn't really stayed up to date with musical consumption habits.

Actually on second thought I take it back.  Music is pretty good at adapting to new technology.  Many musicians and conservatories stream concerts, Twitch's 'music' channel is pretty underutilized but is available for people to stream personally.  There is a recent article in which Juiliard has made an app which streams the process of making and being great artists, be it a pianist, singer, actor, or dancer.

                                     This honestly has nothing to do with what I'm writing about.  Just wanted to put some nice music here.

Even with these developments, most orchestras are pretty slow on the technological uptake.  There is little interaction between the audience, and the musicians in orchestras are generally silent outside of their circle of influence in the academic field and/or other musicians.  While larger orchestras such as Berlin have their digital concert hall and the MET has their 'MET at the movies' experience, beyond the major productions most symphonies have little or no online presence beyond a website and a poorly updated Youtube channel.

I would like to see orchestras try to incorporate and be on the cutting edge with the VR and other technology to really revolutionize the orchestral experience.  Imagine as a viewer to be able to 'walk' around an orchestra and hear what an orchestral musician hears when they play.  When I sit in an orchestra I hear something completely different than in a recording or as an observer in the hall, and I would love to see orchestras have a more entrepreneurial approach to adapting and utilizing new technologies for music.

6. Lack of marketing/significant outreach

I've gone a little bit into this in other categories on this list but I want to discuss this in more specific detail here.  Think about the level of promotion pop music artists get when they release a new album.  Posters, ads, access cable ads, twitter, Facebook, the industry floods promotion everywhere.  While orchestras don't need to sell out, beyond the Californian orchestras (LA phil ,SF, etc.) most orchestras don't really self promote beyond their Facebook page.  Part of this is due to a limited marketing budged: most orchestras are scraping by the skin of their teeth and most of their sales come from donations and not ticket sales.

Putting some money together for ads, local cable or otherwise, would be a significant help promoting an orchestra.  If you walked around a city that isn't NYC, Chicago, or Philadelphia, and maybe Cleveland, and ask them where and when their local orchestra is and where they play they probably couldn't tell you.  Orchestra's might advertise on Facebook and Youtube videos do reach an international audience, but even then they will only reach audiences who are looking.  Orchestra's need to find ways to draw in an audience who isn't going to be looking for what their orchestra is playing, but people looking for something to do that weekend and give them an experience which doesn't make them feel separated from the orchestra as they play.

Now I'm not a marketing guru with years of experience to know how to promote but I know that orchestras could be doing a lot more than what they're doing now.  There are so many great performances and performers that people simply are unaware, and I know I'm always frustrated when I miss out on some great pieces being played simply because they're not well promoted.

That being said, I understand the difficulty.  When I perform a concert promotion is one of the last things I'm thinking about.  It's a very tough for single performers self promote your own concerts.  For my undergrad and master's recitals I literally did no promotion.  This was in part of my lack of self-confidence of my playing but it was also due to just not knowing what to do.  I know some schools are now helping their students learn how to promote their performances (Mannes specifically) and I think overall it's a positive development in stagnant music education.

5. Classical music recordings and streams do not properly represent the genre.

There was an excellent recent NPR article detailing many aspects of classical music streaming and geo-tagging that goes into a lot of problems about finding/listening to classical music through streaming services such as Spotify or Pandora. However, it primarily focuses on how impossible it is to find top recordings of classical music, as well as the complicated business of finding a recording.

The article does not go into the other problem with classical music: recordings simply do not sound remotely the same as a live concert despite the care taken to make good recordings.  Even with lossless audio files like FLAC, the recording will only be as good as the positioning and equipment.  While this equipment can get very good, it still isn't the same, as the music gets compressed, mixed, etc.  it still lacks the depth of the live performance.  Also due the loudness war so much music gets affected by it.  Either classical recordings get hit by it and there no longer becomes any dynamic contrast, or the opposite happens and the dynamics are so contrasting that the quiet parts/movements of a piece get lost and the whole effect of the piece is ruined and hard to hear.

Even with new and 'better' formats being developed classical music needs to find a good way of making great recordings.  While there are some fantastic and ground-breaking recordings, (Boulez with Cleveland comes to mind as well as some Chicago and Philadelphia recordings) it still pales to a live performance.  Classical music is designed around the concert hall and live performance, and as such recordings need to reflect the setting.

4. Classical Music has a bad or negative image in pop culture

Classical music has a poor image in mainstream culture.  Whenever it appears in movies, it is always associated with the financially and intellectual elite, the elderly, the foppish, or the pretentious.  It has been used as a punishment in public schools, and has been used as calming emotional manipulation in train stations,  For some reason this art style which was once near universal has been practically weaponized as punishment.  It is sad, especially considering that classical music has such great story and emotional depth to the music, something that is ignored in it's common consumption as a study aid or a relaxer.  How can you find Shostakovich or Berg relaxing?

Leider by Berg, performed by Renee Fleming

Classical music itself is not pretentious, but sometimes the people who listen to it are.  Musicians demand such high levels of perfection and musicality in their playing that it can make new listeners of classical intimidated, the amount of study and knowledge many people have about the genre is incredible.  Due to this, many people get angry and frustrated when they don't understand and recognize basic musical forms, the multiple melodies and counter-melodies, and constantly shifting tonalities that appear in classical music works.  This makes the formality of the performances themselves become a daunting experiences to many people.

3.  Modern music consuming habits do not follow modern art/classical music's demands

A general and overlooked problem is that classical music doesn't conform to how people generally listen to music. Instead of being the focus, music tends to be used as a multitasking background soundtrack.  Classical music, especially compositions written the past 100 years or so requires the piece to be the focus, be it Stravisnky, Shostakovich, or Boulez, Cage, etc.  To fully understand these pieces a listener can't focus on other inputs, but due to our hyper-visual society we tend to focus on what we see and not what we hear.  This is why movie soundtracks and pop pieces have prominent melodies with a steady consistent beat, not only for dancing but for ease of consumption.

The loudness war (which was mentioned in an above section) is a reflection of this.  Most headphones are pretty poor quality, so if all parts of the piece are the same volume you can hear it at the cost of musicality. Compare this to the sensitivity of an orchestral piece, where even in a quiet room with headphones it can be difficult to make out all the details.

The culture of classical music is just completely different from popular genres. For example, most music written in a contemporary style focuses on musical intellectualism instead of musical empathy.  Meanwhile, pop music is less about the music and more about the image.  The music is so similar that people invent ridiculous classifications in an attempt to separate 'their' music from the 'mainstream' genres. You don't see Baroque being broken down to 'post-grunge apocalyptic baroque' (though that would be kinda cool).  If the image and popularity of the pop-artist or the group was removed and just the music remained, could anyone say that the music is still good and popular?

2.  Very few people realize the range and scope of music classical styles have to offer.

When people think of classical music they tend to think of Mozart or Beethoven,  I mean just type in 'classical music' into Youtube and look at the first few videos that show up.  It isn't Xenakis or Stockhausen that's for sure.  Everyone extrapolates on this and says all classical music are this style of music.  And they're partly right since classical music has the primary definition of music written between 1775 and 1825 (you can quibble dates if you want, I'm just going with Google here). I mean where would Messiaen fit in? Ravel? Rimsky-Korskov? There's no good way to define and categorize 600 + years of written music that is still growing and developing today.  Art music is another classification but ignores that so much of classical music wasn't written to be esoteric and intellectual.

the first link when you search 'classical music' on Youtube. Don't read the comments

When people say 'they don't like classical' I have to not believe them because there is encompasses so many different styles and philosophies that they can't possibly say they dislike all of classical, but they hear a couple compositions and assume that they have heard everything it has to offer without only scratching the surface.

That being said, music appreciation does go both ways.  It's so easy to focus on one category when completely ignoring what is going on now.  As musicians we should listen to more popular styles (be it metal, pop, hip hop, whatever) so we can better understand what is the popular music aesthetic.

1.  Lack of Education

In the end, this all comes down to one thing: lack of education.  People don't know how much music there is and cannot fathom how many different subcultures and genres there are.  Without classical musicians leading the way for promotion and education, there won't be many orchestras left because people don't know they exist!  Once again look at Youtube, and see how many channels there are promoting video games, science, or other current pop culture trends.  Then look at who is promoting classical music.  There is a horrible lack of education in the arts which allows corporations to swoop in and take control of what people see every day.  We as musicians need to show people how amazing classical music is and the amount of diversity and depth the music has to show.

Hopefully this has been somewhat insightful look into the difficulties classical music has to face.  I wasn't expecting it to be this long but it ended up taking quite a while to write.

May 5, 2015

Touch Pianist is Amazing and Here's Why

Touch Pianist is a phone app/website that was released today and every tech geek is blogging about it.  As I'm a music geek and ran into it I thought I would also write a little post about it.  So here's what I have to say:

Teachers: learn piano if you don't and be prepared to teach people piano.

                                                             The interface for touch piano

The premise of the app is very simple: Take a well known classical piano piece.  Every time you press your screen or press a key notes will play.  Repeat until the end.

I fiddled with this app for a while and I have to say it's intoxicating.  While I can play the piano, I would hardly say I'm remotely good at the instrument.  This app made me want to brush off my books and relearn how to play piano.  Honestly I might start practicing piano seriously again because this app is pretty inspiring.  Just hammering out the last movement of Beethoven's Appasionata, or the opening of Pathetique, without spending the time to actually learning the notes and the proper technique is still somehow incredibly fun to play.

While you can't control the dynamics (well) and articulation is still an issue, it is still a fun way to mess around with amazing classical works and feel a way of expressing yourself musically without spending the hundreds or thousands of hours necessary practice to master these pieces.  I definitely felt inspired to dust my music off and start practicing again and I believe this app is an amazing way to introduce people to what it feels like to be a classical musician.

While this doesn't remotely feel like playing on an actual piano, it is definitely worth letting students take a crack at this simply because when I was playing this I was playing it as I would a real piece.  While the export of the audio is obviously MIDI and doesn't effectively emulate the sound of the piano, I still felt moved trying to give a, albeit romantic, performance of Beethoven.

So stop listening to me and click on this link and visit the website!  Be warned: It works best on Chrome.  Firefox works, but it doesn't work on IE.

Apr 20, 2015

Video Game Music Compared to Classical Music

I just came across an article on some website trying to compare classical compositions to modern video game music.  I have linked the article here.  This article, while interesting, makes horrible connections to 'similar' classical composers, and honestly represents why I find modern perceptions of classical music so... wrong.  This is so frustrating I'm not even sure how to articulate this well. I also posted this as a comment on Reddit so if you see it there it's me posting.

1) Comparing music that is meant to be the foreground and the focus vs music that is meant to be atmospheric and background.  This is the primary problem I have when people do these comparisons.  Classical music by 'older' composers is meant to be the primary focus, and as such tends to be very focused thematically, personal, and have many layers of meaning.  I mean comparing Mahler to video game music?  The author completely misunderstands the vastly personal and philosophical nature of Mahler symphonies and draws the conclusion that they're similar because of 'heavy orchestration', and completely misses the very personal nature and duality of what makes Mahler... Mahler (this comparison particularly frustrated me).

I have seen composer interviews for video games and it seems like it very rarely contains the same amount of thought as a classical symphony.  The primary thought of composers is to fit the theme of the game, and not make a profound statement through the music.

2) The comparisons aren't just bad, they completely misrepresent both video game music and classical music.  Comparing Zelda with Vaughn Williams?  Vaughn Williams music is nostalgic and thematically based off of English Folk Music.  The structure and style is impressionist and powerful.  Having heard Zelda music as well I can say there is no connection between the two.  It's like saying Hayden and Xanakis are similar because they both use strings players!

3) If you look at video game music at all, it should be how it has evolved and uses new ideas/form to progress the classical music genre, not compare it to old forms. The video game aspect is equally bad.  There is some good game music, but this music should be evaluated on it's progression *from* classical form, not how it is similar in poor comparisons.  There are *some* game which I think is made by brilliant composers because they do something *new*, and not the same old rehashed cinematic crap.

For example, I have a lot of respect for Peter McConnell's work as a composer because of how he evokes emotion very different and unique than the average VG composition.  His music, in my opinion, is effective *as music*, not just in the context of a video game (at least some of it, other parts not as much).

4) VG music relies largely on nostalgia and the game for context, Classical composers use the music as the context.  Look at some of the comparisons this author makes.  Shostakovitch, whose music represents the indomitable nationalist control Russia had over its people, compared to some tune from Fable?  The reason why Video Game music is getting traction isn't because it's better music, it's just more prominent music.  People are listening to it weather they realize it or not, so when they come across it they remember that epic boss fight or manufactured moment, not how the music's themes represent repression of people (Shostakovitch, Tchaikovsky), the jubilation of coming into the light from the dark (Beethoven 5), or even a story of seduction, survival, and cunning (Scheherazade, Miraculous Mandarin).

Will music like Nobuo or the Zelda composers enter the orchestral rep?  Most likely.  They sell really well and there are definitely some good pieces out there.  However, do they stand up to classical pieces?  I personally don't think so, but that's up to individual interpretation.  I have stated my reasons why and hopefully someone else can weigh in as well.

Mar 19, 2015

Are Video Games Art?

The vast majority of this is personal opinion.  If you agree or disagree, realize that I am looking to draw my own conclusions, not to force them on others.  If you come to a different conclusion please let me know in the comments.

A few years ago, famous film critic Roger Ebert wrote an extensive article in the Chicago Sun Times stating that video games can never be art.  I highly suggest reading the article in the link provided, as he greatly expands on his thesis and gives detailed explanations of his thought process using examples that I, as a gamer, would have potentially considered as 'art games' myself.

These articles and arguments have been around in 2010.  I remember reading this article when it came out, and the frenzy that happened in the gaming community was rather entertaining to watch.  I also thought that Ebert was talking about something which he didn't understand, but as time goes on I am beginning to come around to his conclusion in some cases, and in other arguments I am beginning to find flaws as the video game scene is growing and developing.

One of the biggest problems with trying to identify video games as art is that video games contain all the elements of art.  It has visual style, a (usually subpar) story, music of some variety, an aesthetic and atmosphere, and many design choices that someone would associate with art of some way, shape, or form.  As such, video games challenges us to redefine "what is art?" as movies have done so a century ago.

The definition of art is something personal to each person.  For example, some people find pop-art styles and icons such as Banksy as the pinnacle of sophistication, intellectualism, and meaning while others think he's just a nuisance on their walls. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his article, for every definition of art there are examples which would disprove that definition, and as such the lines defining art would get so rigid that it would become impossible to allow anything new into the category of 'art'.  Instead, what I'm going to do is look at games, and to see what makes a good game and bad game.  

Rather than compare games to existing art, I want to see if I can find a conclusion as to what is 'art' in form of a game.  I will probably end up comparing it to movies, music, and so on but the primary goal is to look at video games as an individual sub-catagory as 'art' and find what could be or not be art.

The Problems

Video games have a few problems which game designers are slowly figuring out.  The first of which is integrating plot into a story.  One of the defining characteristics of a video game from any other form of entertainment or art the interactive nature of the game; the ability to define the progress of the game through personal interaction.  Stories, however, have the problem that they have a desire to be linear.  To have structure in a story you need to have a premise, development, climax, and a conclusion.  As such, video games and story have a difficult interaction.  Let us first look at some of the most plot heavy genres of all video games: RPGs.

                                                      The opening to Final Fantasy 13

The biggest problem with the RPG is that you have no personal interaction in character; due to the complexities of the story your interaction, and therefore ownership, of the characters is quite limited.  While some RPGs are more successful with this than others, the interaction of the characters have been, for ages, completely out of user control.

There are, of course, exceptions to this.  The Dragon Age series (especially Origins, and from what I hear, Inquisition) both really allow the user to take control of a generally unknown main character and control the plot in various ways.  Even then, however, the overall story is unavoidable, the ending still the same ending no matter what choices you make, and the choices that happen aren't from your actions, but from a complex dialogue tree.  While these choices to affect later games, it is still, in essence, a linear journey.

There is only one game that comes to mind where users create the story, and that is EVE online. This game is very different and probably deserves its own article.  Basically the game allows players to create alliances to control in-game space and resources.  These groups fight over control of various stars, important strategic areas, and so on.

                                                              EVE online political map.  The factions are entirely player driven.

With EVE comes multiplayer experience, and with another question arises: Can multiplayer/competitive games be considered art?  According to both the Roger Ebert and the TED talk by Kellee Santiago, multiplayer games cannot be art, just like how chess and football, no matter how splendidly or cunningly played, cannot be art.  In general I agree:  While people might remember amazing sporting like the Miracle on Ice or Ursain Bolt beating the 100-meter world record, these events are not art.

Another problem with games is the shelf life of games.  Unless they are constantly renovated with updated graphics and game play (a la League of Legends, WoW, etc) modern games frequently and rapidly become out of date.  Compare this to Gregorian chant, which has been around for literally 1500+ (depending where you want to place the beginning of chant) years and is still used in modern music/film.  Paintings need to be restored, but it is done not to update the visual style but to preserve what is already there.  There are a few games which I would have put as potentially art games (Homeworld, maybe Mario Bros) but if they need to be updated can you say that they are as long lasting and relevant?  Will we still be playing and preserving the original Super Mario Bros in a millennium as we do Gregorian chant?  I certainly don't know the answer, but considering the consumerist nature of gaming I have a feeling that these games will eventually get lost or moved to irrelevance.

The Good

Within gaming, however, new innovation is coming out, and some of which I think is indicative of an artistic nature.  The first being a little indie game called the Stanley Parable.  Warning: This section will contain some level of spoilers for this game and potentially others.  If you haven't played the game and were thinking of it please skip this.

There are many reasons why I think The Stanley Parable, while being a self critical parody, is one of the few games ever made that can be considered an art game.  The first major reason being that this is the only game (to my knowledge) where the game narrative reacts to what the player chooses to do.  This isn't just a gimmick but also demonstrates the level of integral narrative that could be in modern games.  The reasons to not do this is pretty obvious: the amount of voice work and the amount of world building would be prohibitively expensive and the costs would rapidly increase as the game world grows.  Due to this, the game is pretty simple, being only a few hours long.

Another reason why the game could be considered 'pop' art is due to how the game expands beyond... the game (yeah it's a bad sentence).  Basically this game can cause you to think about your own life.  Are you simply following the preset plan in narrative or are you trying to break out?  Is it possible to break the narrative?  The Stanley Parable raises personal questions.  I remember showing this to some people and they were uncomfortable with how this game portrays 9-5 jobs, the incessant grind of mediocrity of the average job.

This game isn't without problems.  I know many people don't even consider it a game because you sorta just walk around.  This is also the problem with games and narrative: For a game to have effective narrative there has to be a trade off in game-play.  As such, for a modern game to be profound there is a give and take between the game being interactive and the experience to be enlightening.  There is another game which might have found a solution to this problem in its own way.

Proun is a racing game that is entirely about game-play and art aesthetic.  It has no story, but does it really need one?  Proun gives players a unique perspective of art.  As you 'race' through these very minimalist and fascinating 3d landscapes the game becomes much more about the ambiance and the experience.  There is a reason why this game demoed at a couple art museums.

It's great to see that indie games are exploring the combination of narrative and game-play and taking it to new places.  That being said, it's really hard for a game to be a medium of self-expression of ideas which can be achieved much more effectively in so many books, films, art, and music.  Games are still a young medium, and as such we are still trying to figure out ways to use games to be though provoking and insightful, or just effective and dramatic works of art.  Games still are a ways away from having a reactive and cohesive story-telling and playing experience.  As games develop, it is possible to see games become this, and it is great to see what will happen in the future.